If the groundhog were a birder, perhaps he would have predicted six more weeks of a winter like this . . . We know that Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow. Many in the US probably rejoice at his early spring prediction, but, with a winter like this, many birders may not be so thrilled with the famous prognosticating rodent’s forecast. So far, with a finch super flight still underway, numerous irruptive species making appearances south of the Canadian border, an epic Razorbill, loon and scoter invasion southward, and a continuing throng of European visitors in North America, selecting a highlight reel is a challenge to say the least! And, with a potentially ferocious Nor’easter headed for New England, the possibility of more avian excitement continues.
Presently, the forecast for Winter Storm Nemo (as so named by The Weather Channel) is ominous. This system will be dangerous for a large swath of Northeastern US states, so first and foremost, safety is the top priority! For those in coastal New Jersey, New York, and New England, serious flooding is a real possibility, and blizzard conditions are forecast in numerous areas. Heavy snow, rain, and icing are going to be associated with this storm, making any travel treacherous, particularly in conjunction with high winds (some nearing or over Category 1 Hurricane strength). With such strong easterly winds forecast for late Thursday through Friday, many near shore pelagic species will probably be driven ashore, particularly in and around Cape Cod and Long Island. Additionally, heavy snow cover and icing will force many terrestrial birds to seek more favorable areas, presumably initiating facultative movements of open country species like Killdeer, Horned Lark, American Pipit, Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs (and Northern Lapwing!) as well as fruit eaters like American Robin.
In other file-under-monster storm stories, team BirdCast would be remiss in failing to talk about the epic North Atlantic storm in the last week of January 2013. The Free University of Berlin named the storm Jolle. As it passed, strong easterly winds were afoot from the UK to eastern Greenland. Given the penchant for many wintering species to move in search of food during extreme winter weather, the recent cold and snow in many areas of western and central Europe, and the strong easterlies over portions of the North Atlantic, the appearance of more Northern Lapwings in Eastern North America may not be so surprising. Yes, some local reshuffling of the deck, so to speak, if also a possible and plausible explanation for these appearances. Teams eBird and BirdCast will discuss these competing hypotheses in an upcoming article, so please watch the eBird and BirdCast sites for updates.